Syrian refugees: School is a fading memory

By: 
Tom Perry
Hani in his vegetable store where he works 12 hours a day

When we think about an eleven-year-old child we think about a child that goes to school in the morning, plays with their friends in the afternoon and enjoys dinner with their family in the evening. For Syrian refugee children such as eleven-year-old Hani this is a fading memory.

Hani fled with his family from Homs and now carries heavy boxes filled with vegetables and fruits in Mafraq in the North of Jordan. He starts at eight in the morning and finishes at eight at night. He drags cases from the back of the shop to refill the stalls.

He is one out of tens of thousands of refugee children in Jordan, Lebanon and other neighbouring countries who had to swap school and playground with hard work. They had to grow up overnight to take care of their families.

Hani is merely 1.5 metres tall and has arms and legs as thin as matches. He is only a bunch of skin and bones and has trouble lifting the heavy boxes. He is still so small that you have to look very closely to spot Hani behind the tomatoes, bananas, watermelons and peaches in big boxes on a long table.

Is it really necessary that someone as little as him has to struggle with such hard physical work? Is there really no other option? As a mother of two girls I have asked myself this question several times. Unfortunately, the answer is a very clear "no".

Every day is a struggle to survive

For most of the more than three million Syrian refugees in the region, every single day has become a struggle to survive. After almost four years since the beginning of the Syria Crisis all of the resources have been depleted.

Hani's father hesitated before he sent his son to work. He has tears in his eyes while he tries to explain his decision. "I do not know what I shall do. I am so ashamed that my child has to work. I cannot find work and am not allowed to legally work in Jordan. I am afraid to be sent back to Syria.

"For children, the legal consequences are not as harsh. So I hover over my son and try to help as much as I can."

In a lot of cases women had to flee alone with their children, because their husbands are still in Syria or have died. It is often the young sons who have to work so their family can survive. A CARE assessment in April 2014 found that only half of the Syrian refugee boys in Jordan are going to school.

Girls are forced into early marriage

For girls, the economic struggle of their parents often means that they marry earlier than they would have in Syria. Parents cannot afford to feed all of their children and are struggling to survive in Jordan and other neighbouring countries. According to UNICEF, in 2012, one out of every five girls was made to marry. During the first quarter of 2014, it was one out of three.

Hani likes his job but he is tired when he comes back home after twelve hours of work. His home in Jordan is a one-bedroom flat with mould on the walls, which he has to share with his five sisters and his parents. He spends the approximate £1.50 that he earns each day on buying food for his family and contributing to paying the rent. Hani has only one dream:

"I want to go back. I miss my best friends and my Playstation. I want to go back to school to become an engineer and rebuild Homs."

Tom Perry's picture

Tom Perry is Senior Media Advisor for CARE Australia